China tops in 2011 patent applications

China registered the most patent applications globally last year, leading the world in an indicator that the United Nations intellectual property agency uses to measure innovation.

China received 526,412 applications compared to 503,582 for the United States and 342,610 for Japan, according to the latest report from the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization.

The report, “World Intellectual Property Indicators 2012,” also said that global patent filings passed the two-million mark for the first time – despite the sluggish global economy.

“Sustained growth in IP filings indicates that companies continue to innovate despite weak economic conditions,” said the agency’s director general, Francis Gurry. “This is good news, as it lays the foundation for the world economy to generate growth and prosperity in the future.”

As part of its mandate to encourage intellectual property in order to stimulate creativity, the World Intellectual Property Organization monitors global registration of patents, copyright, trademarks, designs and utility models – the latter being instruments that protect inventions for a limited period of time.

Ahead of 2011, China had already been the world’s largest processor of utility models, the agency reported.

In the report, the U.N. agency notes that China’s State Intellectual Property Office became the largest patent office in the world after overtaking the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2011 and the Japan Patent Office in 2010.

Only Germany, Japan and the United States had held the top spot during the 100 years before 2011, with China accounting for 72 per cent of the almost 294,000 increase in patent filings worldwide between 2009 and 2011.

“Even though caution is required in directly comparing IP filing figures across countries, these trends nevertheless reflect how the geography of innovation has shifted,” Gurry said in the report’s foreword.

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